Do you live in the United States?
Do you own a cell phone?
Are you currently under, or have you ever been under, a cell phone contract?
If you answered yes to all three of those questions, do yourself a favor and read this article by Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. Or if you don’t want to, or don’t have the time to read the article, just watch Walt’s video of it; the video is basically the same content.
The gist of what Walt is trying to say is this: the current state of cell phone service is broken. The cell phone carrier companies (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) have too much control. Here are three examples of the carriers’ having too much control.
1. When you become a customer to one of these carriers, you have to sign a long-term commitment, usually a 2-year commitment, which has pricey consequences if you choose to break it.
2. When you become a customer to one of these carriers, you have a small selection of phones to choose from, and each phone is provided by the carrier itself.
3. When you get that phone, you can barely customize the phone to your liking beyond choosing a color scheme and ringtone.
Mossberg gives a careful analogy between cell phones and computers, explaining that we don’t put up with the tight-grip of control when it comes to computer, television, or land-based telephone service (Would you ever consider buying a computer that let you customize the desktop wallpaper and the startup sound, but did NOT let you install any applications?).
So, America, why do we put up with this bullying? Most of you would probably answer, “I don’t have a choice. I have to give in to the companies.” And you’d be right. These companies have too much control. Mossberg writes that there are 2 ways to break the control. The first one is mostly beyond our control: government. If the government mandates a change, we will eventually be freed from the carriers’ grips, but that would take several years.
Walt’s second suggestion, however, is what I am interested in: Disruptive innovation. What is disruptive innovation? Let me paint you a picture.
Drivers: What happens when an accident causes a stretch of highway to shut down or slow to a halt? People find a different, faster route.
Music-lovers: What happens when CD prices become outrageous? People learn to share music over P2P networks for free.
Geeks: What happens when a router somewhere on the Internet goes down? Packets find another route that works.
Disruptive innovation is what happens when large numbers of people (or data packets :-D) are forced into something outrageously inconvenient. Disruptive innovation changes the status quo. It’s happened dozens of times in the past, and it will happen again.
I know that disruptive innovation will eventually cure this disease under which we currently live, but what can we do now? The only thing I can think of is to stop signing these commitments. I urge you, dear reader, not to sign any more contracts with the phone companies. They will try to convince you to upgrade your phone and renew a 2-year commitment but please don’t do it.